Is Objectionable Content OK?

There was a bit of a tempest last week when the OneBookshelf (i.e. DriveThruRPG, RPGNow) sites hosted for a period a d20 supplement entitled "Tournament of Rapists".

I'll begin with I can't even to begin to imagine why one would think producing such a product to be a good idea. The summary of the product, quoted from Tenkar's Tavern, is:
The Tournament of Rapists details the sadistic Rape Pure Fight circuit, expanding on what you’ve seen already and introducing dangerous new sexual predators. This sadistic bloodsport takes place in abandoned office buildings and atop Tokyo rooftops. An assortment of superhumanly powerful and inhumanly misogynistic men, and even worse women, step into impromptu fighting arenas, killing and raping the weaker in search of a multi-billion yen fight purse provided by a half-oni billionaire in thrall to dark impulses.
So why would one ever make such a product is truly beyond me. I think Tenkar's title of "WTF Were They Thinking" says it all.

The other controversy was OBS's decision to host the product, resulting in a number of boycotts and calls for boycott. They have since developed an objectionable content policy which includes:
If a reported title looks questionable, then we will suspend it from sale while we review its content internally, and we will speak with its publisher to determine the fate of the title on our marketplace. Our default will be to suspend titles rather than our prior default of letting titles stay public. 

I'll be honest in that I'm torn. My own leanings are along the lines of what some have derisively referred to as that of a "Social Justice Warrior".

That said, everyone's threshold for offensiveness varies. For example, I'm not a huge fan of grindhouse though I nevertheless enjoy most of Lamentations of the Flame Princess' products. Probably despite the grindhouse aspects, not because of them. I personally don't care for products like Carcosa's providinig mechanical benefits to human sacrifice. It is certainly emulating some of the nastier elements of the sword and sorcery genre. However, my preference would be to shove that element in the background - i.e. they are bad, they sacrifice kids instead of statting out the benefits of sacrificing those kids. But it's also my prerogative not to buy that product or if I do so, to give a negative review.

I hate being wishy washy, giving the "both sides have a point" argument. Merchants are often held accountable for the products they sell - look at Amazon pulling Confederate flags earlier this year. And I imagine no one would fault OBS for choosing not to host games like the Racial Holy War RPG (yes, I'm sorry to say that's a thing). Or an adventure where the goal is to molest children.

I guess where I end up standing is the realization that any store is going to apply some discretion to what it carries. My own preference is that they exercise extreme care when choosing not to carry something, trusting to customers to make their own decisions.

The problem with taking down offensive content is knowing that people can very easily be sincerely offended. Blue Rose, a romantic fantasy RPG, managed to offend a number of people as it incorporated inclusiveness of same-sex couples. It was published at a time when the only state in the United States that legalized same-sex marriages was Massachusetts. Should Blue Rose have been pulled if it offended enough people? What about the novel Lolita, dealing with hebephilia? I'm a fan of Nine Inch Nails, music which many people are understandably offended by.

Where I believe my nervousness lies is in the reporting policy OBS is developing. I worry it could be easy to create a flood of controversy over a title. The policy also includes the following, which I hope will prove to be the case:
I will be the final arbiter of what OneBookShelf deems offensive. I will tend to err toward including content, even when it challenges readers and deals with sensitive issues, so long as it does so maturely and not gratuitously. 
I think the jury is still out on what "maturely" and "gratuitously" is. Is art depicting a naked man turned to stone by a medusa mid-coitus (complete with erect penis) mature? Is it gratuitous? 

My thought is OBS should sell products that some people, even most people, will find offensive, even when I'm among those people. That doesn't mean I won't speak out against those who produce such materials should I feel it appropriate to do. Rather I would prefer to aim my disagreement at those who choose to produce such material, not those who sell it. I'd prefer censorship to be minimized. As a store it is certainly OBS's right to censor what it puts up for sale, I hope they will do with extreme rarity.

Popular posts from this blog

Jules Verne Translations That Don't Stink

RPG Review: Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Role-Playing

Go Support Golden Age Champions

Fate Accelerated Star Wars Character Stats